Tag Archives: spain

Tom Arms’ World Review

Nine weeks. This is how much time – according to the International Grain Council – that the world has before the Ukraine War sets the world on an unalterable course towards world famine. This is because in nine weeks Ukrainian farmers will start harvesting the winter grain crop and start moving it to portside harbours to be shipped out via the Black Sea. The problem is that those silos are already filled with 200 million tons of grain from the previous harvest because of the Russian naval blockade and destruction of Mariupol. If that grain is not moved – and moved quickly – the winter harvest will simply rot in the fields and the same fate awaits the Ukrainian autumn harvest and every subsequent harvest until the silos are emptied and the blockade lifted.

On top of that, Western sanctions are blocking the export of Russian grain. Between them, Ukraine and Russia, account for 20 percent of the world’s grain production. They also contribute mightily to the global stores of rapeseed oil, sunflower seeds and oil, barley and (with Belarus) potash for fertiliser. Africa and the Middle East obtain 40 percent of their grain from Ukraine and Russia – 95 percent of it shipped via the Black Sea.  The UN is desperately trying to negotiate a naval corridor to rescue the grain. Turkey is also trying to mediate and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov was in Ankara this week to discuss the problem. But a diplomatic solution seems unlikely. Russia refuses to cooperate until Western sanctions are lifted. Ukraine accuses Moscow of stealing its grain and Moscow says the responsibility for clearing the mines it laid blocking the harbours is Ukraine’s responsibility. Until those issues are resolved the grain stays in the silos and the harvest in the fields.

During Cold War One the US and Soviet Union flexed their economic muscle to compete for economic influence in the developing world. America – with its deeper pockets – won. Now the battle is between Washington and Beijing and the economically powerful Chinese are pulling ahead. They are now the number one trading partner for most countries in Africa and Asia. But most worrying for the US is the growth of Chinese investment and trade in what it regards as its backyard – Latin America. Between 2002 and 2019, China’s trade with Latin America and the Caribbean grew from $18 billion to $316 billion. China is now the number one trading partner with every major Latin American country except Mexico. With this trade comes political power and influence.

Chinese success was the driving force behind President Joe Biden’s decision to call this week’s Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles but the gathering was not the success he had hoped for. Various initiatives were discussed: a new development bank, training for 500,000 health workers; a food security programme and a “climate partnership.” But the US only invited what it regarded as democratic governments to the summit which excluded Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. This angered many of the other attendees (including neighbouring Mexico) who registered their displeasure by sending their foreign ministers instead of the head of government as requested. As the US Congress pores over the details of any Latin American programme there will doubtless be strings attached to any trade or aid deals. This is in stark contrast with the Chinese. They are interested in only in the money, markets and access to strategic raw materials. The governments with which they deal are free to champion or suppress human rights without comment or interference from Beijing – for now.

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What’s going on in Andalusia

Andalusia is to the PSOE as Scotland was to the Labour Party: an area where they could take people’s votes for granted to help them waltz into power at the national level. The recent elections, brought forward from March, meant they could use the region as a litmus test for future national elections and seek to take advantage of Pedro Sánchez’s honeymoon period after the vote of no confidence in July.

The PSOE has governed Andalusia since 1980. Many Lib Dems in Labour and Tory fiefdoms will be well aware of what that length of time in power does to a party, and there have been ongoing corruption cases. This resulted in Ciudadanos breaking their agreement with the PSOE, as sufficient advances had not been made on rebuilding people’s confidence in Andalusian democracy. At the time of the last elections in 2015, the PSOE got 47 seats and Ciudadanos 9, with the majority being 55.

Which brings us, more or less, to where we are at the moment, with a spectacular increase in seats for Ciudadanos from 9 to 21. Numerically, the PSOE remains the largest party, but it’s resoundingly clear that it’s time for a change in Andalusia. Despite Susana Díaz’s scaremongering about the right-wing bogeyman coming to destroy the region, and Podemos’s attempts to classify the entire centre-right as being ideologically identical to fascism, Ciudadanos’s candidate Juan Marín ruled out any kind of pact with Vox. This is because, clearly, the kind of Macron-style European liberalism Ciudadanos leads on in ALDE is the polar opposite of Abascal and Le Pen’s politics.

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We should be defending the fundamental rights of the people of Catalonia

An illegal vote. State police censoring political websites. Paramilitary police using violence against peaceful protesters. Calls from Amnesty International to release imprisoned political campaigners. The right-wing preparing to seize control of a democratically-elected government.

You might think that I’m talking about a backward dictatorship in a far-flung corner of the world. Rather depressingly, I’m not. Instead, these events are happening right now in one of our fellow EU countries.

By now, I’m sure most of you are aware of events in Catalonia. You may not be aware that this is not a sudden constitutional crisis, but the culmination of centuries of repression from Madrid and, more recently, a failure of the right-wing national government to engage in meaningful dialogue with the wealthy north-east region’s autonomous government.

Spain’s transition from the brutal dictatorship of General Franco to democracy has often been admired by foreign observers. 40 years on from the horrors of Franco’s Spain, the country is now regarded as a respected liberal democracy.

Let me be frank and shatter those illusions for you:

There is nothing liberal about national leaders refusing to engage with political problems (instead passing that responsibility to the courts and ensuring that, rather than progress reflecting changes to the political reality, the status quo is maintained at all costs).

There is nothing democratic about sending riot police in to beat peaceful demonstrators and elderly citizens to stop them from exercising the most fundamental democratic right: the right to vote.

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Season 2: The state of play in Spain ahead of the election on 26 June

It’s often said that we no longer have The Thick of It because politics can no longer be effectively satirised in Britain. You could say the same about Spain (although there is a Catalan programme that makes a valiant effort.)

After the last round of post-election negotiations failed, it sometimes seems like you’re watching a particularly dramatic TV show. The polls have remained fairly static, and where there are variations in the number of seats in the new election on  26th June they will be reasonably small.

However, there has been one large development – Podemos and Izquierda Unida (IU) have formed an electoral pact (the Pact of the Beer Bottles) for this round. Iglesias has made no secret of the fact that his goal is to overtake the PSOE (Socialists) in seats, but his party was starting to drop in the polls. Alberto Garzón’s IU was benefiting from that, so those two will likely make some form of gain there.

In Britain, we know all too well that when the election results are uncertain and the system very polarised, more moderate parties lose out. In the same way that the Tories and the SNP fed off each other, the PP and this new Unidos Podemos (Together We Can) formation happily do the same. The PP paint themselves as the sole force that can stop the Unidos Podemos (UP) threat, which plays into UP’s hands in the same way that Cameron’s fearmongering played into Sturgeon’s.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 5 Comments

Spanish liberals have everything to play for

The morning after the Spanish General election,  those of us who follow Spanish politics suffered from a sore head. The electorate gave no clear direction when the votes were counted last week, with the previous governing party winning first place, but with far fewer seats and votes and no viable combination of parties able to group together to form a stable government.

Those of us who  two weeks ago  had dreamed that Spain’s new centrist party, Ciudadanos, were about to break the mould and become, if not a governing party, at least the kingmakers, can be forgiven for being disappointed with the result. But put into perspective, a party that four years ago did not exist on a national level, with no infrastructure and a single issue policy platform, has burst onto the scene with 40 deputies in Congress, gaining 14 per cent of the vote.

There will now follow weeks of horse trading to try to build a government out of such a fractured parliament. Rajoy, as ever a poor imitation of Angela Merkel, initially seemed to open the door to a grand coalition with the Socialists, with his call for a stable government with a majority. A pact between the two largest parties is the only combination that could provide a majority government without an unwieldy coalition of small parties. But such a coalition would surely undermine the raison d’etre of the Socialist Party as an anti-Conservative force.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | 4 Comments

What the Liberal Democrats should learn from Ciudadanos

These past two weeks have taken me back to being a 16 year old first starting to watch election debates in the UK. I’ve watched so many Spanish debates I know the campaign messages off by heart, and, being a young person, I’m up to date with all the Twitter memes. A (comparatively) young centrist leader, Albert Rivera, branded as a kingmaker, and constantly questioned about who he’ll seek to work with after the elections can’t help but be compared to Nick Clegg, especially when considered to be “the sexiest candidate in the campaign according to all the polls.”, and when the PSOE is talking about a vote for anyone else as a vote for the PP. It’s all oddly familiar. That comparison to Britain has backed Rivera into a corner, to an extent – the narrative over the last few weeks has been that Ciudadanos won’t enter into a coalition unless they are the party leading it.

However, the comparisons with 2010 extend further – there has been a serious drop in C’s support over the past few days, and today’s headline is that they will remain kingmakers but get far less seats than expected. Looking at the Andorran fruit markets (a cipher for polling, which cannot be published in the five days before the election) gave me the same feeling of shock as seeing the exit polls in the UK election. We’ll see what happens – I’ve already turned down a bet on the election result as a fool’s errand this morning – but chances are that it won’t be possible to live up to the hype.

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Postcard from Madrid: Podemos has done up its top button, now it needs to put on a tie

Jeremy Corbyn has, since being elected Leader of the Opposition, experienced a crisis in reconciling his radical politics with the wider want of the general public. He’s been reluctant to dissociate himself from perceived radicals such as the Stop the War Coalition (just as Podemos have with the likes of Syriza and President of Ecuador Raffael Correa), has refused an invitation to the CBI conference (citing prior engagements, despite him being invited the day he was elected party leader), has had to relent to party pressure on a free vote on Syria bombing and so on and so forth.

He has repeatedly been asked to compromise on his radical politics, and he has had great difficult in doing so.
Podemos need to better prepare themselves for opposition, by being able to answer the difficult questions that Corbyn has struggled with. Four years of a PP and Ciudadanos government poses a tremendous opportunity for Podemos to become Spain´s second party, however in order to do so they need to tweak their approach, without losing the impassioned support that they’ve already acquired.

They’ve already embarked on this journey by abandoning two of the more radical proposals from their European elections manifesto, as well as reassessing a debating system which gives the same worth to a proposal from one individual member as one from a “circle” of 30 or 50 people.

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Postcard from Madrid: Spanish forgiveness presents unique opportunity for Podemos

I have noticed during my time in Spain, and research prior, that equivocation and outright policy reversals are not met with the same scorn and derision by the media and general public here that they are in UK politics.

Mariano Rajoy, Pedro Sanchez and Pablo Iglesias have all, at some point in recent years, reneged, retracted, backtracked or outright refuted stances or statements they once held or pronounced, with very little cost to their wider popularity. In the United Kingdom at least, this is a cardinal sin; pure sacrilege. An example of how overt Spanish politicians are when backpedalling can be seen in Rajoy´s response to hiking VAT in 2012 after pledging not to, “I said I would lower taxes and I am raising them. I haven´t changed my way of thinking but circumstances have changed”. Who, in the run up to this year´s election, has mentioned this as a reason for rebuke against Rajoy?

The Liberal Democrats suffered a complete collapse partly because of such a manoeuvre (losing 48 seats in the 2015 UK general election), whilst just recently John McDonnell and then David Cameron were the subjects of much ridicule for making statements which they then failed to act upon (McDonnell’s U-turn on George Osbourne´s fiscal charter proposal, and Cameron failing to come to a decision on Heathrow by the end of this year). There’s been no such reprimand for Iglesias and his abandoning of “basic universal income” and a “citizen’s audit of Spanish public debt” – both policies he included in his European election manifesto, but which are absent from this year’s, “An economic plan for the people”. This is great news for him, as he’s being granted license to remould his and his party’s image.

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Postcard from Barcelona: The people’s concerns remain unanswered

Arc de Triomf (Barcelona)Barcelona have never been particularly enthused by the right wing Partido Popular – although Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy´s party is still expected to pick up three or four seats – however it´s no longer just them that a vast majority of the population now rally against. Mayor of Barcelona and En Comu Podem member, Ada Colau, expands her anti-´la casta´ (the establishment) rhetoric to include not just PP and the socialist PSOE, but also Convergencia and Ciudadanos.

“I’ve never seen PP, PSOE, Ciudadanos or Convergencia in a protest to stop evictions, defend healthcare or protect employment rights,” she said during a recent rally. The loudest cheer she received during this speech was in response to her statement that “PP is a party that really doesn’t care about human life”, a statement that, based on their presence in Catalonia, PP would be hard-pressed to refute.

Colau was one of the founders, and now chief spokesperson for, the PAH, who are a citizen´s movement focused on the right to housing. PAH yesterday exemplified Colau´s non-discriminatory rhetoric against all opposing political parties by plastering the posters of PP, PSOE and Ciudadanos in Barcelona with stickers accusing them of intending to vote against their ´5 demands´ (which include non-recourse debt, affordable rent, stop evictions, social housing and right to utilities). PAH are just one of many ´mareas´ (tides) spawned by the Indignados movement of May 15th 2011.

Stickered billboards

Another example of the disaffected tides of unhappy citizens that Rajoy has had to confront is ´Juventud Sin Futuro´ (Youth Without Future) – 260,000 people aged between 16 and 30 left Spain to find work abroad in 2012. Unemployment in Spain has indeed decreased from its peak of 27 per cent in 2013 by roughly six points, however the situation remains grave. 

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Spain’s historic liberal opportunity

Albert_Rivera_-_02Buckling under the weight of economic stagnation, endemic corruption and institutional failure, the old duopoly in Spanish politics of the right-leaning Popular Party (PP) and centre-left Socialists is finally breaking down. With just days to go until the general election on 20 December, voters look to be splitting four ways. On the hard left, Podemos has profited from the frustrations of many, but in the centre ground Ciudadanos (C’s) offers new hope for liberal minded voters.

Liberalism tends to be a dirty word in Spain. The country has had precious few popular liberal movements in its history and the label tends to be hijacked by the right, meaning many Spaniards equate the term with a “one rule for them, one for us” mentality, or corporate cronyism.

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Opinion: Miriam Gonzalez Durantez drops a few truth bombs on political parties

I’m currently studying abroad in Salamanca, where, as in the rest of the country, there are municipal elections on 24th May. (Yes, polling day is on a Sunday.) My bedroom floor is covered in a variety of different party propaganda (yes, that is the word they use in Spain for it) that I’ve gathered for academic reasons, obviously.

So, I was really excited to read Miriam’s article in El País recently. It most certainly did not disappoint – if you want a lesson in how to drop truth bombs on political parties, look no further.

Just to give a little bit of context – the Partido Popular is currently governing. It’s got “Working, Making, Growing” posters up around half the city, shouting from the rooftops about its economic success. Miriam notes that although progress has been made, it’s rather odd to be making that a central campaign plank while overall unemployment rests around 20% and youth unemployment around 50%.

She also attacks them for their failure to confront the ‘crisis of values’ facing the Spanish political system, talking of a ‘radical disconnect between the political class and citizens.’ She refers to Chris Huhne briefly, stating that the levels of corruption in the Spanish system could never occur in a country where a politician can go to jail for exchanging points on their driving licence.

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Gibraltar: Lib Dem MEP Graham Watson calls on EU Commission President to intervene

GibraltarSelf-determination — the right of nations to freely choose their sovereignty and international political status with no external compulsion or interference — is a pretty fundamental principle of international law.

It’s the basis on which British sovereignty in the Falkland Islands and Gibraltar is founded. 11 years ago, the people of Gibraltar were asked in a referendum if sovereignty of the territory should be shared between the UK and Spain: 98% said no.

So it’s little surprise that the past weeks’ sabre-rattling by a Spanish government desperate to distract …

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LDVideo: Watch Spanish premier Rajoy’s “fin de la cita” cock-up

Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy has been having a tough summer. The country’s economy continues to contract, unemployment has soared, and — most personally damaging of all — he and his (very) right-wing Partido Popular have been embroiled in a slush fund corruption scandal.

A recent speech to the Spanish parliament was intended to draw a line under the affair. But Rajoy seemed not to have read his text in advance: after each quote, he also read out loud the words in parentheses, ‘(fin de la cita)’ — ‘(end of quote)’. He did this nine times, with varying intonations of intensity, triggering confusion among his peers in parliament and prompting guffaws among the public at home.


(Watch here on YouTube.)

It brings to mind the classic “As I look out over this magnificent vista” clip from The West Wing. It’s Sunday, so why not enjoy those four minutes once again…

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A letter from……Catalonia

As the UK plans a referendum on Scottish independence, those of us watching from Spain can only look on in envy at the orderly and civilised process led by the Secretary of State for Scotland. Here in Catalonia, Northern Spain, similar demand exists for an independent state, but the two sides have chosen indignation and confrontation instead of a serious debate.

The last two years have been tough for all EU governing parties and Spain has unique problems, with its sky-high unemployment levels, corruption and a rickety banking system. But this month Catalans will go to the polls in a general

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LDV poll: 83% of Lib Dems say break-up of Eurozone will be bad for Britain’s economy

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. Some 560 party members responded, and we’re publishing the full results.

This weekend saw eurozone ministers agreed to lend Spain’s banks up to 100bn euros (£80bn) in the latest attempt to stave off economic collapse. We asked our sample of Lib Dem members for their views…

LDV asked: Thinking about the current problems facing the European single currency, the Euro, do you think it would be good or bad for Britain’s economy if the

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A postcard from… Valladolid

It seems that this idea is catching on, as Liberal Democrat Voice has received its first unsolicited postcard. So, without further ado…

It is generally assumed that the Mediterranean countries do not have a strong liberal, democratic strand to their politics. Indeed, the two members of the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Group in the European Parliament are the nationalist parties of two Regions, Convergència Democràtica de Catalunya (Catalonia) and Partido Nacionalista Vasco (the Basque Country).

However, there are liberal democrats in Spanish politics, awaiting discovery by …

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Spain turns to the right – but are the voters rejecting ‘the left’ or incumbents?

As the polls had predicted, Spain has a new government: Rajoy’s right-wing Partido Popular (PP) defeated Zapatero’s left-of-centre Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). The only surprise was the large margin of victory, 16%, the worst defeat for Spain’s socialists in their electoral history.

So yet another right-wing government takes power in a European nation. On the face of it, it seems almost perverse that at a time when confidence in the deregulated capitalist system associated with the right is at its lowest ebb that those parties which champion it are winning elections. As I noted here on LibDemVoice back in …

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What caused the riots? It’s more than just the economy, stupid.

Aditya Chakrabortty has a pretty compelling article in today’s Guardian scrutinising the political responses to the past few days’ rioting under the concise headline, UK riots: political classes see what they want to see. He summarises the binary analysis that has dominated:

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How Clegg switched sides at half-time

No, not more revelations from the memoirs of New Labour’s svengali, Lord (Peter) Mandelson – rather a diary piece by Hugh Muir in the Guardian.

LDV readers may recall Nick Clegg’s conflicted loyalties in deciding whether to support Holland or Spain in Sunday’s World Cup final. It appears he found out a way to resolve them:

… at a cross-party reception for the Lib Dem thinktank Centre Forum, the deputy prime minister admitted that while he began watching the World Cup final supporting Holland, as the Diary said he would, he switched sides halfway through and began rooting for

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Miriam Gonzalez blows whistle on sexist media: “treat women for who they are and not simply for what their male partners do”

Hat-tip to Lib Dem Welsh assembly member Peter Black for blogging the letter by Miriam Gonzalez (or Mrs Nick Clegg as she’s known to right-wing tabloids) published in today’s paywall-protected Times, in which she directs a well-aimed shot at the paper for its shabby treatment of a woman who happened to have fallen in love with a man in the public eye:

Sir, now that Spain has won the World Cup and Iker Casillas demonstrated on Sunday that he is an outstanding goalkeeper regardless of whether his girlfriend, Sara Carbonero, watches him from the touchline or not, it may be time for you to eat a bit of humble pie. Trying to blame Sara for Spain’s initial lacklustre performance while she was simply doing her job was not worthy of a newspaper that should treat women for who they are and not simply for what their male partners do.

Miriam Gonzalez
London SW15

You can read the background to the story, and The Times’s reaction to Miriam’s letter, in the Telegraph.

And for those who missed it, here is the rather touching video of Sr. Casillas meeting his girlfriend, Srta. Carbonero, for the first time after Spain’s World Cup triumph:

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Nick Clegg’s budget trip to Spain

Nick Clegg in Madrid
Giles Paxman, British ambassador to Spain, has blogged about Nick Clegg’s visit to Spain last week.

While emphasising Britain’s interest in the Eurozone’s economic success, the Deputy Prime Minister showed he’s economising too:

The top priority, obviously, is tackling the problems with our public finances. Nick Clegg made the point strongly, in his long meeting with Prime Minister Zapatero and his speech to a packed audience of top Spanish movers and shakers, that this was a duty that we owe to future generations and that

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